The Gothic War, also called the 12th Black Crusade, was a vast military campaign against the Imperium of Man launched by the Warmaster of Chaos Undivided Abaddon the Despoiler and his Black Legion in 139.M41 which lasted until 160.M41. Abaddon managed the rare feat of uniting the disparate forces of the Ruinous Powers under the banner of Chaos Undivided and led his Chaos Space Marines and the rest of the Forces of Chaos from the Eye of Terror into realspace where they engulfed the strategically important Gothic Sector of the Imperium of Man in war.
The conflict consisted of hundreds of planetary invasions and naval battles and only ended when Abaddon was forced to retreat to the Immaterium with the arrival of Imperial reinforcements. It saw the destruction of several planets and four of the six known Blackstone Fortresses, as well as the deaths of billions of Imperial citizens.
The Gothic War is the most common name for the wider conflict stimulated by Warmaster Abaddon's 12th Black Crusade against the Imperium. The conflict was fought almost entirely around the Gothic Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus of Imperial space, which was cut off by Warp Storms generated by the Ruinous Powers from all contact or communication with the rest of the Imperium for almost a decade.
The 21-year-long war resulted in billions of casualties, at least one Imperial world was completely obliterated, many starships were destroyed and some very important Imperial personages were killed or incapacitated. Most significantly, the events of the Gothic War revealed the true nature and purpose of the ancient spaceborne alien artefacts known to the Imperium as the Blackstone Fortresses.
The Gathering Darkness, 139 - 142.M41
While the vast majority of the Imperium of Man's defences around the Eye of Terror Warp rift in the northwestern reaches of the galaxy are based in the area known as the Cadian Gate, there are many Imperial monitoring stations scattered throughout the Segmentum Obscurus. These outposts are constantly raided and attacked by the various forces of the Chaos Gods, but during the second century of the 41st Millennium the number of these assaults dramatically increased. The most important of these attacks that served as a prelude to the horrors that were soon to come was the assault on the Imperial watch station on the world of Arx. Due to its low strategic importance, Arx was inhabited by only a small garrison of the Imperial Guard which was tasked with protecting the few Tech-Adepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus who were needed to maintain and operate the station's observation equipment.
Early in 139.M41, the Imperial Navy scout frigate Ascendance received a telepathic plea for help from the Arx station's elderly Astropath. The identity of the attackers was unknown and when reinforcements arrived a full four months later, there was no sign of the raiders. The Imperial Guardsmen stationed on the planet had been wiped out and their bodies had been horribly mutilated and left to be devoured by the wild dogs that were Arx's only real predators. The Inquisition sent one of its agents, the experienced Inquisitor Horst, to Arx to investigate the matter, but there was little evidence left for him to sift through.
If Arx had been the only outpost so attacked at this time, the raid would have become just another unknown in a galaxy filled to bursting with enigmas. Yet, over the next three years a number of similar attacks were reported throughout the neighbouring star systems and then spread into the adjacent Sectors. Inquisitor Horst suspected that some larger plot against the Imperium was in motion, yet he could find no evidence to support his well-honed instincts or identify the nature of the attackers, so he decided to watch and wait for this canny enemy of the Emperor to make their next move.
In 140.M41, several Imperial patrol vessels made grisly discoveries in the Athena Sector. A number of Imperial merchant starships and warships, one of them an Emperor-class Battleship, were discovered to be drifting through the void uncontrolled. Upon being boarded, it was learned that the crews of all these ships were dead, their stinking, disease-ridden corpses strewn along corridors and control panels, some still manning their stations. Each starship also bore the scars of weapons fire and a brief space battle, as well as signs of being boarded, though none of the enemy dead could be found. Inquisitor Horst puzzled over these developments while his Acolytes and spies brought him more news. A rumour had spread among the vessels of the Imperial Navy in the Segmentum that the attacks were being carried out by an ancient Chaos warship called the Plagueclaw, a vessel whose diseased followers were dedicated body and soul to Nurgle, the Plague Lord, and had been attacking Imperial shipping for close to 4,000 Terran years. The infection of the decimated ships' crews and the reappearance of the Plagueclaw were no coincidences, a reality which became all the clearer when the Death Guard Traitor Legion, the Chaos Space Marines dedicated to Nurgle, sacked the Hive World of Morganghast. Horst became convinced that the Forces of Chaos were planning another massive incursion against the Imperium united as Chaos Undivided. The watchposts around the Cadian Gate were put on high alert and Imperial Navy warships from all over the Segmentum Obscurus were ordered to defend the space around Cadia.
Whilst Inquisitor Horst investigated the Chaotic activity around Arx and its neighbouring star systems, events turned even more sinister in the Gothic Sector of the Segmentum Obscuras, 2,500 light years from Arx. The Navigators of the Navis Nobilite reported greater disturbances than usual within the Warp of the Gothic Sector with the incidence of Warp Storms increasing as the year wore on. On many worlds in the sector, this news was received with panic, a situation made even more precarious by several religious fanatics declaring that the Emperor was displeased and was sending Warp Storms to purge the sinful. A number of new hard-line religious sects formed, their adherents stricken with feelings of impending apocalypse. They were desperate for the Emperor's forgiveness and began to flagellate themselves and demand that their friends and neighbours purge themselves of all their sins and inequities in the sight of the God-Emperor. On many planets in the Gothic Sector these cults became very politically powerful, swelled by popular support to such a degree that the Ecclesiarchy (and often the planetary governments) could do nothing to stop the rampaging mobs of hysterical flagellants. As the religious hysteria spread, lynch mobs roamed hive cities and mining colonies alike seeking the impure. Impromptu burnings and hangings became common as the desperately fearful citizens threw themselves into a fervour of eschatological abandon, scouring their friends and loved ones to atone for real or imagined sins against the Emperor. Yet all was to no avail as the Warp continued to become more active, the frequency of Warp Storms and their intensity continuing to grow.
Under the cover of this widespread paranoia and religious excess, secret cults and covens insinuated themselves into positions of power, subverting ever more people to their dark causes. Misguided followers of the Ruinous Powers openly proclaimed that Chaos would save humanity when the Emperor had turned from them. Thousands, even millions of desperate Imperial citizens were deluded by these false promises, flocking to these cults, and the Inquisition's Ordo Hereticus was hard-pressed to root out every Chaos Cultist, deviant, mutant and Heretic. To make matters worse, several Imperial Navy vessels were destroyed in dock by plasma reactor overloads and magazine explosions. Though official reports declared the incidents to be accidents, many believed the tales of sabotage and rebellion within the Navy's own ranks.
While the Gothic Sector was being engulfed in anarchy, religious strife and confusion, Inquisitor Horst was searching for more clues to the plans of the heretics. When he heard of a Chaotic attack on the Imperial world of Purgatory, he chose to accompany the investigating Imperial fleet. There was one thing which made Purgatory different from dozens of other Chaotic raids in the region -- the device known as the Hand of Darkness. Its existence was known only to a few of the most trusted members of the Inquisition, for the Hand of Darkness was an incredibly ancient alien artefact located deep beneath the planetary surface of Purgatory. All attempts by the Adeptus Mechanicus to discern its purpose had failed, yet the legends of other, older races like the Eldar spoke of the Hand of Darkness with horror and revulsion. It was widely believed to be a weapon of immense power. When Horst arrived on Purgatory, the Inquisitor's deepest fears had come true -- the Hand of Darkness had been taken. If the followers of Chaos learned how to activate the alien weapon, they would be able to unleash incredible destruction upon the defenders of the Imperium.
Horst knew of another artefact connected to the Hand of Darkness in the old xenos myths. Called the Eye of Night, it was located on the Ratling planet of Ornsworld. As Horst sped towards that world on the fastest vessel he could commandeer, a report came in by astropathic message of an attack upon the Ratlings. A small force of Chaos Renegades had landed close to where the Eye was embedded in an ancient statue, worshipped as a God by the Ratlings in pre-Imperial times. After a brief skirmish, an Imperial Guard recruiting force stationed near to the Chaos forces' landing site had driven off the raid. However, a solar month later Chaos starships blockaded Ornsworld and a full-scale invasion began. The defenceless Ratlings stood no chance against the depraved Chaos Space Marines and the death toll reached into the millions as the hills and mountains of the world were scoured with fire and shells by the most potent followers of the Dark Gods. Tens of thousands of Ratlings were simply murdered outright as the Forces of Chaos carried out a purge genocidal in its intent and scale. Among the carnage, the Eye of Night was torn from its mounting and the thief slipped away from the planet. The Forces of Chaos now possessed both the Hand of Darkness and the Eye of Night and thus the potential power to overthrow the Imperium of Man. Inquisitor Horst desired only to know where the Forces of Chaos would strike next.
Horst did not know at the time that the Despoiler had learned of the existence of the means to control the Blackstone Fortresses -- the Hand of Darkness and the Eye of Night -- from the ancient crone Moriana, once an intimate of the Emperor Himself during the Great Crusade and an ally of the founders of the Inquisition. Determined to resurrect the Emperor in His mortal form after the end of the Horus Heresy, she had fallen to darkness over the millennia, and now acted for reasons known only to her.
The old Inquisitor began compiling scattered reports of unusual activity in an ever-widening area and learned of the Warp disruptions plaguing the Gothic Sector. As he headed for the region, more reports came in of sightings of Chaotic starships in the region, reinforcing the notion that the Gothic Sector was the target of Chaos' next incursion. A solar month after Horst arrived in the sector in 142.M41, a cataclysmic shockwave passed through the Warp. The resulting massive Warp Storm engulfed the Gothic Sector in swirling tempests of Warp energy, cutting the sector off from trade or astropathic communication with the rest of the Imperium. The defenders of the Gothic Sector would face the darkness that was to come utterly alone.
The first outright battles of what would be called the Gothic War were fought as the year 143.M41 came to its close. During the first few months of the conflict, Chaotic warfleets launched a number of wide-ranging attacks against Imperial Navy bases within the sector.
Reports of attacking Chaos fleets flooded in from all across the Gothic Sector as the Warp Storms reached their peak of activity. Much planning must have gone into their all-important first strike, as the Chaos fleets targeted a dozen major Imperial Navy bases in the sector. With no advance warning, the Traitors struck hard and fast, ambushing Imperial warships as they were in orbital dock or at rest at their stations. Caught unaware and already overstretched by the growing unrest in the sector, the Imperial Navy was poorly prepared to respond to this sudden offensive. At the world of Bladen, the Rhadamanthine had her starboard flight decks blown clean off by spatial torpedoes, while at Cherys, Doomfire bombers from the Heartless Destroyer damaged the Warp engines of the Battleship Lord Sylvanus so severely that it took nearly two years of repairs before the warship could make Warp jumps of greater than 5 light years.
Orbiting Imperial space stations also fell to the Chaotic forces, destroyed or captured by the swiftness of the attack. The loss of many orbital shipyards such as Tripol Docks, Port Imperial and Gathara Station was particularly disastrous, not only because Imperial starships were badly in need of refitting, but because they were soon put to use by the enemy. Captain Grove of the Admiral Drake, an old Relentless-class Cruiser used as an Imperial Navy training vessel, was one of the few survivors of the Chaotic attack at Halemnet Base in the Cyclops Cluster, which was typical of the attacks made by the Chaotic warships. Grove and his crew were lucky to escape the vicious assault. Fortunately for the crew of the Admiral Drake and many other Imperial vessels, the Chaos warfleets were not disposed towards lengthy battles, preferring instead to hit hard and then retreat, leaving the Imperial Navy suffering heavy losses, with many of its capital starships destroyed or needing months of repairs and refitting to return to operational capacity.
Yet the Chaos fleets did not achieve total success in their first strikes. In a few battles the Traitor Fleets suffered serious defeats, most notably during the defence of the Hive World of Orar. When one of the many Chaotic warfleets involved in the conflict, led by the Chaos Warmaster Malefica Arkham, ambushed the Imperial battlegroup that was stationed in orbit of Orar, they did not find their enemy taken unawares. Having just received orders to help put down a rebellion in a neighbouring star system, the Imperial battlegroup, led by Captain Compel Bast on the Battlecruiser Imperious, was just preparing to break orbit. Already at full alert status, the Imperial flotilla easily evaded the attackers' initial spatial torpedo salvo and counter-attacked. Aided by the planet's orbital defences, the Imperious crippled the Chaotic Battleship Soulless with a blast from its Nova Cannon and the Imperial vessels went on to score a rare victory against the Chaos warfleet. Only a handful of Chaos Escorts escaped without damage and the Battlecruiser Deathbane and its fleet were pursued out of the system by vengeful Imperial captains.
Orar was the only major setback suffered by the Forces of Chaos during the opening stages of the Gothic War. In one incident a small Chaotic warfleet consisting of several Iconoclast and Infidel-class Escorts, heading for a raid on Denerair in the Cyclops Cluster, fell afoul of the numerous bands of Ork Freebooterz in the region. Using their traditional tactic of lurking in an asteroid field for an unwary victim, the Ork vessels emerged from hiding and plunged into the heart of the Chaos fleet. Unable to use their greater manoeuverability in the swirl of asteroids, gas and dust clouds, the Chaos starships were mercilessly hammered by the Orks and not one Chaotic vessel survived the battle. Such occurrences were rare and the Greenskins were as happy to continue attacking Imperial shipping as they were to fight against the warfleets of Chaos.
The Battle of Blackstone IV
The initial Chaos attacks struck at important Imperial installations such as Adeptus Mechanicus Forge Worlds and orbital naval bases used by Battlefleet Gothic. Of the 17 such bases in the Gothic Sector, six of them were founded upon the Blackstone Fortresses. The Blackstone Fortresses were immense defensive bases constructed millions of standard years before by an unknown alien hand that had remained dormant since their discovery by the Imperium in the 32nd Millennium. Even with most of their poorly-understood systems inactive, the Blackstone Fortresses had been transformed into incomparable Imperial Navy bases. After extensive refitting by the Adeptus Mechanicus, with Imperial defence turrets and primary weapons systems added, the Blackstone Fortresses' defensive capabilities rivalled those of the Naval Command stations at Port Maw itself. It was the pride of Battlefleet Gothic that no Blackstone Fortress had ever been taken by an enemy.
This was to change at the Rebo System, where the Imperial naval base Blackstone IV orbited that system's fifth world. A Chaotic warfleet, probably led by Abaddon the Despoiler himself, struck at Rebo V. The Imperial starships on station put up a ferocious defence, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the size of the fleet facing them. Twenty capital ships, including two Despoiler-class Battleships and a score of Escorts, swept through Rebo's outer system defences and attacked Blackstone IV.
The battle was short and bloody -- just as the Chaos fleet approached within range of the fortress, Blackstone IV's power systems shut down completely. With its energy grid down, the fortress' guns were unable to fire, the armoured gates to the fighter bays could not be opened and the personnel on board were defenceless. Soon after this turn of events was transmitted in a final message by the station's Chief Astropath, Blackstone IV fell to the invaders. There was no more word out from the Rebo System and it was assumed as a matter of course that the Chaos forces had left no Imperial survivors. The Battle of Blackstone IV was to be the first of a number of critical blows unleashed by Chaos that imperiled Imperial forces right from the start of the conflict.
The Death of Savaven
- "...And lo the beast issued forth to assail the righteous and cast down their works. Though the beast stood clothed in human form, no flesh could conceal the corruption of his damned soul, and the foul denizens of the outer dark flocked to his banner. The righteous cried out for retribution, but the beast would not be laid low. The name of the beast became a curse upon the lips of the righteous, and that curse was Abaddon."
- — Orations of Saint Josephus, Apocalypt of Savaven
Even as the Warmaster Abaddon pushed home Chaos' attack at Rebo, more disaster befell the Loyalist defenders of the Gothic Sector. At the world of Savaven, a Cardinal World of the Ecclesiarchy, the few system defence ships could do little to protect the planet against a new and unprecedentedly powerful Chaos starship. Simply called the Planet Killer, this monolithic starship bristled with gun decks, Lance batteries and torpedo launch systems. As the Defence Monitors withdrew from its implacable advance, the Planet Killer made orbit over Savaven. Drawing upon unimaginable resources of power, the massive vessel unleashed an energy beam from a number of ports on its surface that lasted for almost thirty minutes and cracked the very crust of the planet. The bolt bored its way through miles of the planet's crust and seared through the molten mantle beneath. As the attack finished, the magma surged forth through the continent-sized wound the blast had made in the planet's crust, breaking Savaven apart from within. The oceans boiled, the ice caps melted and whole continents sunk beneath the blazing tidal wave of molten rock vomited forth. Savaven was blown out of its natural orbit by this titanic release of geothermal energy and eventually simply imploded into millions of rocky fragments. Only an incredibly dense asteroid field now lies in orbit of the star where Savaven once circled. There were 14 billion people living on Savaven, all of whom died in less than a solar hour.
The effect on Imperial morale of this new weapon unleashed by Chaos was predictably devastating. All had heard of an order of Exterminatus being carried out upon a world by the Inquisition or the Space Marines using cyclonic fusion torpedoes, virus-bombs or mass drivers, but to know the enemy had the ability to destroy an entire planet from the inside out, not just all life upon its surface, was the most chilling thought that any Imperial crewman or soldier had ever faced. As the Imperial Navy reeled at this news, Inquisitor Horst was left wondering if this was the power that had been gained from the Forces of Chaos' possession of the Hand of Darkness and the Eye of Night.
The Eldar Problem
A constant irritant for Lord Admiral Cornelius von Ravensburg, the overall commander of Battlefleet Gothic, was the presence of a large number of Eldar in the Gothic Sector, making swift forays as raiders from their hiding places within the Graildark Nebula. It is believed by the Inquisition that an Eldar Craftworld was in the sector during the war, though there were no confirmed sightings and its location was never successfully determined. Of the pirate forces plaguing the Imperium, the Eldar force called the Executioners became highly active as the Gothic War progressed, until the number of their raids and attacks had increased from only three in 143.M41 to dozens by 147.M41. Unable to track the advanced Eldar starships back to their base and strongly suspecting that they were connected in some way to the elusive Craftworld located in the sector, Ravensburg could do little to defend against the xenos and it was up to individual Imperial battlegroup commanders to decide how best to stand against such slippery foes.
Not only the Eldar preyed upon the transports and merchantmen of the Imperium. Bands of human pirates, Chaos Renegades from the Eye of Terror and even the vessels of other alien species all increased their activity as the anarchy caused by the Chaotic invasion spread across the sector. Called Wolf Packs by the Imperial naval officers who chased them, these roving bands of small vessels hunted the starships and convoys of anybody and everybody in the sector. The Imperial Navy was fighting two enemies: the Chaos warfleets and the Ork, human and Eldar pirates that had always been a threat to Imperial shipping even before the Gothic War began. Everywhere, the Imperial forces were on the defensive, driven from planet after planet and system after system. Losses were high and Imperial shipyards and orbital space stations fought a battle with one another over the restricted supply of materiel and manpower. Darkness seemed to be falling with increasing swiftness over the Gothic Sector.
Abaddon and the Blackstone Fortresses (144.M41)
The Imperium was beset by many Chaos warfleets led by individual Warmasters (estimates at the time ranged from 8 enemy warfleets to 20 or more). Each was a rival to any battlegroup Lord Admiral Ravensburg could muster. One in particular, led by Abaddon the Despoiler himself, posed the greatest threat of all. With the threat of the Despoiler's Planet Killer looming over them, many Imperial worlds chose to surrender without a fight. Multiple Sub-sectors fell out of Imperial control and with them a number of void shipyards and orbital docks. As the Imperium faced increasing difficulties in repairing its own vessels, building new ones became ever more unlikely. With their critical early strikes, the Forces of Chaos might well have won the war before it had even started.
There remained some hope for the Imperial Navy in the form of an Adeptus Mechanicus facility located on a desolate moon orbiting the gas giant in the Lukitar System. The Tech-priests there had already been researching the wisdom of their predecessors in order to uncover knowledge that would help them develop more powerful weapon systems, more efficient starship drives and better Void Shield generators. A few Imperial vessels were outfitted with these improved systems, but the results were never entirely satisfactory. Before these issues could be resolved, Abaddon's armada arrived. Commodore Vandez, commanding the 202 Red Squadron which consisted of four Sword-class Frigates, was among the first Imperial vessels to sight the Despoiler since his attack on Blackstone IV.
The Commodore could not believe the size of the Chaos armada. Several Renegade capital ships headed in-system with a dozen Escorts, and with them was a Blackstone Fortress. Outmatched, Vandez was forced to make a fighting withdrawal in the face of such overwhelming firepower, leaving behind what remained of Lukitar Station. The captured Blackstone Fortress proved impregnable to the weapons of those few Imperial vessels who managed to fight through to attack it. The captured Blackstone Fortress pummelled Lukitar Station to rubble, taking only a few minutes to destroy it with all its armaments brought to bear. Commodore Vandez's squadron proceeded to Brinaga where Blackstone VI was stationed, as he believed the Renegades would attempt to capture another of the Blackstones. But even with Vandez's warning, there were few available warships left to defend Blackstone VI. As with the capture of the first Fortress, the Chaotic forces possessed some means of controlling the Blackstone Fortresses from afar, and proved able to shut down its power systems and turn it into a death trap for the tens of thousands of Imperial personnel aboard. The Brinaga System fell to Abaddon four months after the attack on Lukitar.
While Lord Admiral Ravensburg pondered the many military and logistical problems facing his isolated sector, he was visited by Inquisitor Horst. What passed between them was never recorded, though it is widely believed that the revered Inquisitor told Ravensburg of the Hand of Darkness and the Eye of Night. A plan was formulated to try to recapture the Blackstone Fortresses by covert means rather than open attack. However, before this plan achieved any visible results, news came through of another assault by Abaddon's fleet, this time at Blackstone I in the Fularis System. The personal log of First Lieutenant Elijah Borgia of the Vindictive was recovered from the hulk of that warship, found floating towards the Fularis star. Within its pages the young lieutenant recounted the horrors he had witnessed first-hand when they faced the Despoiler's fleet.
At first the Imperials were optimistic as Abaddon's fleet had attacked from the other side of Fularis II, which meant that they would have to dare the orbital and planetary defence systems of that world to reach Blackstone I. The Imperial forces had recently upgraded their weapons at Fularis II for just such an occurrence and they doubted that even with two Blackstone Fortresses in his possession the Despoiler would survive their assault. But Borgia's early optimism was to be cruelly shattered as once again, Abaddon rendered the Imperial Navy's defences woefully ineffective. The two Blackstones took up station some seventy-five thousand leagues from Fularis II and just out of range of the world's weapons platforms, except for the torpedo launchers. An energy surge was soon picked up between the two Fortresses. Other recovered evidence pointed towards an energy beam being unleashed towards Fularis II. The Vindictive was caught full-on, her shields overloaded instantly and her outer hull vaporised as the energy wave passed over the ship. Fularis II was later found with its atmosphere stripped off and the surface scoured to a rocky plain. Of Blackstone I, there was no sign.
The War Continues (144-149.M41)
Across the entire Gothic Sector the Chaotic and Imperial fleets clashed. For five standard years the battles continued, with the death toll on both sides rising into the millions. Planets were invaded and recaptured, fleets ambushed, bases attacked and all the while the sector was isolated from any outside help. The Imperial Navy fought desperately to hold back the growing tide of Chaotic warships that spilled into the Gothic Sector. In some areas, the Emperor's forces were hurled back by the ferocity of their foes, while other regions, protected by more skilled or experienced battlegroup commanders, held out against the initial impetus of the Chaotic attack. It is impossible to chart exactly the ebb and flow of the battle and the many worlds that changed hands multiple times during the period of fiercest fighting. By 147.M41, the Lysades Sub-sector was almost entirely overrun and Chaotic starships held sway in over a dozen star systems surrounding Port Maw. However, in the Cyclops Cluster the Orks gave the Chaos vessels stiff resistance and from staging points in the Quinrox Sound, the Imperial fleet launched many counter-attacks, pushing back the spread of Chaos for months before being forced to turn their attention to incursions elsewhere.
Attacks from the Orks, Eldar and human pirates in the Gothic Sector occurred with greater frequency as the Imperial Navy and the Renegades duelled across the stars. With the watchful eye of the Imperial Navy elsewhere, these pirates had almost free reign, capturing convoys and launching raiding parties that sacked cities on a dozen worlds, which resulted in tens of millions dying from disease and starvation. Those Imperial convoys that somehow managed to get through safely inevitably found themselves facing enemy warships prowling through their destination systems, blockading all craft entering and establishing a stranglehold on the worlds they besieged. On the Hive World of Stranivar three hive cities, with inhabitants running into a hundred billion souls, were overcome with rioting due to the shortages of drinkable water. With no incoming supplies, the world's own recycling centres were unable to cope and nearly ninety percent of the population died from dehydration before the next convoy managed to break through the Chaotic blockade. The orbital docks and shipyards were frequently starved of supplies and warships which put in for repairs and re-arming were often sent into battle with only makeshift refits and half-empty magazines.
The Pirate's Haven
While Lord Ravensburg's forces struggled with the warfleets of the Chaotic Warmasters, the Imperial fleet made significant progress against another deadly foe. A rough confederacy of nearly two dozen pirate bands had gathered in the Quinrox Sound. This sizable pirate armada had become a serious threat to the security of shipping in the Sub-sector. Lord Admiral Ravensburg, unable to turn his attention from stemming the Chaos incursion, ordered Fleet-Admiral Mourndark to deal with the pirates in any way he saw fit. Mourndark drew warships from battlegroups across the sector, including five capital ships: the Sword of Orion, Havock, Uziel, Fortitude and the fearsome Cypra Probatii. The Fleet-Admiral also took command of the 24th Destroyer Squadron ("Widowmakers"), the 1st Frigate Echelon ("Eagle Claws") and a Sword-class Frigate of the Anvil 206 Patrol Flotilla.
With a large convoy of empty transports, Mourndark lured the pirates into attacking. When the Imperial warships counter-attacked, Mourndark ordered that at least one of the Renegades be allowed to escape. With the aid of the Master Navigator Absalom Draal, Mourndark and his fleet were able to follow the surviving pirates back to their lair in the Barbarus Costa System. Confident in the knowledge that they were safe in their den, the pirates had given little thought to defences. The Imperial attack came as a total surprise, as Mourndark annihilated the pirates to a man. With a large proportion of the pirates dealt with in one blow, Ravensburg was able to concentrate his forces on fighting back against the Chaos warfleets once again.
The Imperium Resurgent (150-151.M41)
The Battle of Gethsemane
- "Thank the Emperor, I have done my duty."
- — Lord Admiral Ravensburg at the Battle of Gethsemane
For the first seven standard years of the Gothic War, the Imperium had been fighting defensively across an extended battlefront. As 150.M41 passed into the year 151.M41, Lord Admiral Ravensburg decided to take the fight to the enemy and claw back what had been taken. Though he knew that the Chaos warfleets were numerically superior, they were divided into many smaller fleets. It was Lord Ravensburg's hope that he could destroy his attackers if he could bring the full weight of Battlefleet Gothic to bear against each of the Chaos fleets individually. This was a very risky ploy, because to amass the entire sector battlefleet in any strength meant weakening convoy escorts, system patrols and squadrons on anti-pirate duties.
After numerous aborted attacks and false starts, Ravensburg saw his first real chance in mid-151.M41, when scout vessels reported a Chaos warfleet moving en masse towards the Gethsemane System. Ordering his task force to get underway with all possible speed, Ravensburg took personal command aboard the Divine Right. With 17 capital ships (including 2 Battleships and 2 Battlecruisers) and 20 Escorts under his command, Ravensburg pursued the enemy fleet into the Gethsemane region. Realising their plight, the Chaotic forces attempted to head out-system again to try to get far enough from Gethsemane's star to attempt a Warp jump. Ravensburg detached the fastest vessels in his fleet to pursue and a week-long sternchase ensued. The action that resulted was recorded by Captain Blythe of the Guardian.
As the Imperial vessels followed the fleeing Chaos fleet, signals came in warning of another enemy fleet on a closing course. The Imperial starships had been lured into a cunning trap. Bolstered by a further 12 warships, the Chaos fleet turned on the Imperial vessels and it was all they could do to evade the bulk of the enemy. Even in doing so, they lost 3 Destroyers and 4 Frigates in a series of small skirmishes. The enemy losses totaled at least 5 Escorts and maybe as many as 10 or more. With all of the massive warships remaining with Lord Ravensburg's command, there was little else the Imperial vessels could do but run. Blythe and his battlegroup headed back towards the vicinity of Ravensburg's main fleet, but even with his other capital ship, the Imperial forces were still outgunned to a serious degree.
For three days the two fleets circled and dodged each other through the system, neither fleet commander prepared to commit the bulk of their ships against an enemy whose exact position was unknown. Three weeks after arriving in-system, Ravensburg's fleet and the Chaos armada clashed. Six Firestorm-class Frigates located the Chaos warfleet near Gethsemane II, using the cover of several dust clouds to avoid being detected themselves. Seizing the opportunity, the Lord Admiral moved his whole fleet in to attack. Ravensburg's Cobra-class Destroyers launched several torpedo salvoes at extreme range. Although they had little hope of inflicting damage, the torpedo attacks forced the Chaotic warships to alter their heading so that they were moving towards the Imperium's capital ships. Forced into a head-on clash with the Imperial fleet, the Chaos vessels came off poorly in the initial exchange of fire.
Salvoes of Imperial torpedoes screamed into the Chaos fleet. Some were evaded, others hit home with the blossom of explosions. The Imperial Escorts carefully kept the enemy herded in a compact mass as the other Imperial warships passed through their lines. When Lord Ravensburg gave the order, the Imperial capital ships poured a continuous fusillade into the Archenemy's ships. The stars were thick with the enemy, and the Imperials could not miss at such short range. The Imperial fleet tore through their adversaries, crippling 4 capital ships and destroying 11 Escorts in the initial pass. Rather than turning to fight, the Chaos Warmaster ordered his fleet to continue on their course in a bid to escape. As the faster Renegade vessels accelerated away from Ravensburg's pursuit, it looked as if the Chaos warfleet would once again escape justice.
Even as the enemy drew away, more drama occurred, as recorded by Captain Drew of the Fortitude. The Chaotic fleet was suddenly attacked without warning as Eldar warships appeared in front of the Chaos vessels as if from nowhere. Even as the Imperial fleet attempted to haul onto a new heading, their dread became ecstatic happiness as the Eldar attacked the enemy.
Caught between the attacking Eldar and Ravensburg's fleet, the Chaos warships were annihilated, although a dozen more of the Emperor's vessels were crippled or destroyed before the victory was finally claimed. Why the Eldar decided to lend their weight to the Imperial cause was never discovered, though it is a common belief that they had finally heard of Abaddon's capture of the Blackstone Fortresses and had seen an alliance with the Mon-keigh as their only chance for survival.
Even as the news of Ravensburg's great victory at the Battle of Gethsemane was spread throughout the fleet, even more promising tidings were to come. In the late months of 151.M41, the Warp Storms that had isolated the Gothic Sector began to abate and several warships from neighbouring Imperial battlefleets arrived to reinforce the Lord Admiral's bloodied fleets. The Battle Barges and Strike Cruisers of several Space Marine Chapters also arrived, bringing fresh, elite troops to the fighting. The Imperium's solid defence, though broken in places, had prevented the Chaos warfleets from achieving swift victory, and with the help of the Eldar and Imperial ships from nearby sectors, the Emperor's servants could at last go on the offensive.
The Destruction of Tarantis
Abaddon, like his rival Ravensburg, was loath to contemplate defeat or to give up what he had won. With 2, possibly 3, Blackstone Fortresses under his command, it was the Despoiler who still presented the greatest threat to the Gothic Sector. Just how much of a threat was not realised until the attack on the Tarantis System. Located on the edge of the Gothic Sector, it was a common gathering ground for starships entering or leaving the region from the Tamahl Sector, and so it was there that the Despoiler determined that he would stem the flow of Imperial reinforcements from entering the sector. Abaddon's main fleet, accompanied by all 3 of the missing Blackstone Fortresses, swept aside the few Imperial warships close to where it broke from the Warp. Closing rapidly into the system, the Cruisers and Battleships of the Chaotic armada punched a hole through the defenders to allow the Blackstone Fortresses to break through. Countless millions of Imperial Navy personnel and Imperial Guard died, planets were destroyed and an uncountable number of innocents perished as the two mighty fleets clashed, but what happened next was to totally eclipse all the horrific events of the war thus far.
Once again, the Blackstones combined their power together in the same fashion as they had done at Fularis, unleashing a massive energy wave into the Tarantis Star. With their objective complete, the Chaos warships conducted a fighting withdrawal and then jumped into Warpspace once more. As the Tarantis Star raged and boiled for over a month, its corona expanded to engulf the two nearest worlds. Any that could leave fled the system, but to evacuate the populations of three worlds was an impossible task. Four weeks after Abaddon's attack, Tarantis' star went nova, wiping out everything for many thousands of billions of miles in every direction in a storm of gas and superheated plasma. The entire star system was no more and the Despoiler now possessed the power to unleash this destruction wherever he wished.
The Trap Is Sprung
As the war continued, Lord Ravensburg firmly believed that Abaddon would attempt to capture the remaining three Blackstone Fortresses, but he had no idea against which one the Despoiler would strike next. Imperial and Eldar starships hunted for the elusive Chaos fleet for six months through long-forgotten star systems in a desperate bid to find Abaddon and his horrific weapons. Then the forces opposing Abaddon received a major breakthrough when the Eldar located Abaddon's fleet in the Lower Lysades and were able to use their sophisticated starships to trail him through the Warp. From his course it was clear that Abaddon was preparing to launch an attack on Schindelgheist, where Blackstone V floated in the depths of space. Leaving only a few vessels to deal with the other Chaos fleets, Ravensburg and the Eldar raced to reach Schindelgheist before Abaddon. Utilising ancient Warp Gates shown to them by the Eldar, the Imperial Admirals sped across the sector and arrived five days before the Despoiler was due to arrive in the area. The Imperial ships and Eldar lay in wait, awaiting the arrival of the Chaos fleet.
When the traitorous ships finally arrived, they were outnumbered and caught by surprise, leaving them little choice but to die fighting. For three days the two mighty fleets battled, inflicting horrendous casualties on both sides. But for all their ferocity, the Chaos ships simply could not match the forces arrayed against them. As the third day of the fighting drew to its bloody conclusion, Abaddon once more broke the Blackstone Fortresses through the Imperial defence and headed towards the system's primary star. Ravensburg ordered all available ships to intercept them, though he knew there was little he could do to stop the behemoths. Only the Flame of Purity was close enough to attack, but the Battlecruiser's weapons were woefully ineffective against the huge stations. Linked again by powerful energy beams, the Fortresses built up the required power for another cataclysmic attack. Seeing no other options, in a supreme act of valour and ultimate sacrifice, Captain Abridal ordered all power to the shields and drove the Flame of Purity into the middle of the converging energy waves. The ship was destroyed almost instantly, scattered into its constituent molecules. However, the detonation had expended the Fortresses' power and, as Abridal had hoped, the Blackstone Fortresses would take some time to accumulate the energy required for another attack. Luckily, time was something that Abaddon had finally run out of.
The Blackstone Fortresses had been rendered all but ineffective, their power systems drained. Abaddon managed to escape into the Warp with two of them, after a lengthy chase to the edges of the Schindelgheist System and a jump into Warpspace dangerously near to the gravity well. The Imperial fleet closed in on the third, unleashing all of their weapons, although still to little effect. Finally, two Strike Cruisers from the Angels of Redemption Space Marine Chapter, combined with Shark Assault Boats from the Divine Right, boarded the isolated Blackstone in an attempt to recapture it. Ensign Goldwyn was part of the Imperial Navy's boarding party during this mission and he was the source of the reports which described what they discovered. There was no crew aboard the Fortress. The interior of the Fortress bore little resemblance to what the Imperial forces recognised and there was no sign at all of the modifications made by the Tech-priests, as if their intrusion had been totally expunged. The walls pulsed with energy, the surface of which had become a deep, veined black, the opposite of the harsh white-painted walls and corridors that had marked out the Fortress' interior during the time of Imperial control. The Imperials had been aboard for only an hour when a high-pitched whine filled the air and the walls became reddish in colour. The Imperials had no sooner left than, without warning, the Fortress suddenly began to break up and slowly shattered into thousands of fragments.
At about the same time as the recaptured Blackstone Fortress destroyed itself, the other Fortresses across the Gothic Sector also self-destructed. We know now that the Fortresses under Abaddon's did not destroy themselves in a similar fashion, as the events of the 13th Black Crusade and the Terran Crusade would prove that the Chaos Warmaster had managed to maintain his grip upon the ancient engines of destruction. How or why the other remaining Blackstone Fortresses were obliterated remains a mystery. Inquisitor Horst believed that some things were just too dangerous to be allowed to exist and someone or something had decided that the Blackstone Fortresses were counted amongst that number.
The Closing Years (152-160.M41)
The Stain is Cleansed
With Abaddon's fleet gone, the attention of the Imperial Navy was turned on the other Chaos fleets. The Warp Storms had decreased to almost their normal level and scores of Imperial warships poured into the Gothic Sector. Many of the Chaos Warmasters followed Abaddon and fled back to the Eye of Terror, to nurse their hatred and bitterness until another opportunity to attack the realm of the Corpse Emperor presented itself. Four battlegroups, each consisting of several dozen capital ships and Escorts, systematically engaged and destroyed many of those who remained, eradicating each in turn. In the Port Maw Sub-sector, titanic running battles between Admiral Storn's second Cruiser battlegroup and the warfleet of Heinrich Bale lasted for two standard years, as the Chaos ships slipped from system to system, turning to fight when the odds were in their favour, fleeing before the Emperor's wrath at other times. The battle for Quinrox Sound claimed yet more lives as solitary Chaotic vessels sped through the debris, picking off the occasional Imperial Escort or Cruiser sent to hunt them down.
Although the battles across the stars were drawing to a close, it would take a further eight Terran years to retake the worlds that had been captured by the Forces of Chaos. Many of these worlds were utterly devastated, their populations enslaved or sacrificed to the Ruinous Powers, the lands ravaged by war. Slowly but surely, the Imperial Guard scoured these planets of the taint of Chaos. The Missionaries and Confessors of the Ecclesiarchy set about restoring faith in the Emperor and the Inquisition hunted down those who had collaborated with the followers of the Dark Gods. However, the fight against the Archenemy is never truly finished, for there are worlds within the Graildark Nebula that still await the Emperor's fleets to free them. There are scattered Chaos ships and even two or three warfleets that still roam the darkness between the stars of the Hammerhead Deeps and the Cyclops Cluster, waiting for their chance to strike again.
As more warships of the followers of Chaos departed or were destroyed, Ravensburg ordered two of the large battlegroups to concentrate on the pirates who had grown powerful during the carnage. They were each hunted down in turn, like the Chaos fleets, many of the bands breaking up and seeking sanctuary in forgotten star systems and in uncharted asteroid fields. The Orks of the Cyclops Cluster became the target of extensive Imperial pogroms, forced from worlds where they had enslaved millions, smashed from star systems where their crude ships had preyed upon Imperial shipping. Twenty years of continuous warfare had left deep scars and it would still take centuries of blood, sweat and toil to repair the harm, both physical and spiritual, that had been wreaked by Abaddon the Despoiler and his minions.
Rewards of Victory
The cost of an Imperial victory had been high for the Imperial Navy, and Battlefleet Gothic in particular, both in terms of human life and in the numbers of ships lost. Great sacrifices had been made and great heroes had met the challenge. Only through the determination, courage and loyalty of every man and woman serving in the Imperial Navy had the war been won.
The High Lords of Terra recognised the efforts of the entire sector fleet and the name of each crewman who served in the war, from Lord Admiral Ravensburg to the lowliest rating on the smallest merchant ship, was engraved upon a specially constructed monolith, which stands ten times the height of a man in the Chamber of Heroes in the Imperial Palace on Terra.
Inquisitor Horst slipped away to pursue his duties elsewhere and it is rumoured that he dedicated the rest of his life to hunting Abaddon and determining the ultimate fate of the Blackstone Fortresses the Despoiler had escaped with. Of the success of this self-imposed mission, no report has ever been made and Horst himself was seen only twice more, once during the Second War for Armageddon, and when he aided the successful search of his fellow Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax for the Eye of Night after 999.M41, a quest that seemingly cost Horst his life.
Through these dark times, the Gothic Sector had survived and life would eventually return to normal for the brave men and women of the Imperial Navy -- the endless battles with Eldar Corsairs, the search for smugglers, the crushing of Heretics and Renegades, and the thousand other jobs for which Mankind depends upon the men and women of the Imperial armed forces.
The Imperial victory in the 12th Great Crusade bought nearly nine Terran centuries of quiet for the realm of the Emperor before Abaddon the Despoiler launched the greatest invasion of Imperial space seen since the time of the Horus Heresy...
- Battlefleet Gothic (Comic), art by Colin MacNeil
- Battlefleet Gothic Rulebook (Blue Book), pp. 92-103, 158-159
- Battlefleet Gothic Armada (PC Game)
- Black Legion: A Codex Chaos Space Marines Supplement (Digital Edition), pp. 42-46
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pg. 28
- Eye of Night (Audiobook) by Gav Thorpe
- Iron Warrior (Novella) by Graham McNeill, Chapter One
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition), pp. 116-117
- Warpstorm (Rulebook), "Incident at Stranivar" (Short Story)
- White Dwarf 242 (UK), "Wolf Pack" (Short Story)
- Execution Hour (Novel) by Gordon Rennie
- Shadow Point (Novel) by Gordon Rennie